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February 27, 2019

Gore PFC challenge hampered by ‘technical barriers’

Performance fabrics specialist WL Gore & Associates has warned its goal to commercialise the production of its polytetrafluorethylene (PTFE) membranes without the use of PFCs of Environmental Concern (PFCEC) will take longer than originally expected due to what it called "technical challenges". 

By Beth Wright

Performance fabrics specialist WL Gore & Associates has warned its goal to commercialise the production of its polytetrafluorethylene (PTFE) membranes without the use of PFCs of Environmental Concern (PFCEC) will take longer than originally expected due to what it called “technical challenges”. 

The firm revealed a series of “ambitious” environmental and chemical management goals for 2020 in November of last year, including eliminating PFCECs from its consumer fabrics products.

Its Gore Fabrics division, the maker of Gore-Texproducts and a major supplier of membranes and coatings to outdoor brands like The North Face and Mammut, said it would launch an “aggressive” innovation programme to work towards the elimination of perfluorinated chemistries (PFCs) of Environmental Concern from its Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatments and membrane manufacturing processes. Under the two-step initiative:

  • By the end of 2020, Gore Fabrics will eliminate PFCs of Environmental Concern from its consumer laminate shipments corresponding to around 85% of product units in the market. This includes jackets, shoes, gloves and accessories.
  • Between 2021 and 2023 Gore Fabrics will remove PFCs of Environmental Concern from the remaining consumer fabrics laminate shipments while continuing to deliver products which meet the performance specifications relevant for the end use.

To achieve these goals Gore said it would also collaborate with suppliers to eliminate PFCs that are present in the processing aides Gore Fabrics’ suppliers use to manufacture PTFE. It also pledged to pursue the development of fluorinated and non-fluorinated alternatives.

Now, while Jon Hammerschmidt, sustainability technical champion at Gore, says the firm has made “significant progress” on its goals he admits achieving them may take longer than it first expected. 

“We made significant progress in developing new PTFE membranes that no longer require PFCEC as polymerisation aids in the upstream manufacturing,” Hammerschmidt explains in an interview for the firm’s Annual Responsibility Update. “While we are working very hard together with our suppliers on delivering against our plan, we, however, may have to accept that true innovation does not often go by scheduled time. Although we had technical breakthroughs in finding new and high performing PFCEC Free materials, commercialising PTFE made without PFCEC will take longer than we originally expected. The progress we are making nevertheless gives us confidence that we will achieve this goal, albeit delayed.”

In terms of its goal to eliminate PFCECs from laminates that correlate with 85% of finished consumer product units (jackets, shoes, gloves and accessories) by end of 2020, and 100% by 2023, Gore tells a similar story.

In its 2019 annual update – ‘Gore Fabrics’ Goal and Roadmap for Eliminating PFCs of Environmental Concern’ – the firm says it has dedicated seven internal teams to develop new fluorinated and non-fluorinated technology over the coming years, making this a priority in its R&D portfolio.

However, Gore notes: “Although we are working very hard together with our suppliers on delivering against our plan, we have to accept that true innovation is nothing that can be guaranteed. Due to technical challenges we have met, we currently are working towards first shipments to customers in 2020, with a scale-up towards 2021 and complete elimination of PFCEC by the end of 2023. For specialised outdoor/complex technologies the timeline remains unchanged.”

Yet, Hammerschmidt remains optimistic the firm can meet its “ultimate goal” to eliminate PFCEC from the entire lifecycle of Gore’s consumer fabrics products by 2023.

“Due to the technical challenges we have not yet fully achieved the commercial capability and scale to meet our aggressive 2020 goal. Nevertheless, as of today we are confident to meet our ultimate goal to complete elimination of PFCEC by the end of 2023. We have also shared our development status with Greenpeace, they generally appreciated the progress made and indicated that they understand the reason for the delay in some areas and continue to support our PFCEC elimination programme.”

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